A day after House members learned that the drinking water in one of the Congressional office buildings had been shut off due to lead contamination, a bipartisan group of 61 representatives sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency demanding that it improve its lead regulations.
The letter urges the EPA to update the Lead and Copper Rule, the regulation meant to keep the U.S.’s drinking water free from lead contamination, so that the threshold for action is lower. Currently, if a water system finds that at least 10 percent of homes tested show levels of lead at 15 parts per billion, steps have to be taken to reduce it, including replacing lead service lines and improving the use of corrosion control measures to keep lead from leeching from pipes into water.
That action level was established in 1991 in line with the best science of the time and what was considered feasible. But, as the letter notes, “Corrosion control technologies and our understanding of the negative impacts of lead at low doses have advanced significantly since that time.” As it points out, the World Health Organization and European Union Council Directive have adopted action levels of 10 parts per billion.
The letter also urges the EPA to establish a national clearinghouse of information on tests that reveal high lead levels so that the public has more access and notification. The EPA has said that it’s working on a revision to the Lead and Copper Rule and will release a draft next year.
Some of the signatories have offices in the Cannon House Office Building, the building where tests revealing elevated lead levels prompted a water shutoff late on Tuesday night and only bottled water is being used.
One of the members, Dan Kildee (D-MI), also represents Flint, the city that has been poisoned by lead contamination of its drinking water since 2014. In a statement on Wednesday, he said, “Congress has so far failed to act on Flint aid and now some Members of Congress have had their own water shut off due to high lead levels in their Washington offices… Every American deserves to have access to safe drinking water. America is the richest and most prosperous country in the world — we can afford to provide safe drinking water to our citizens.”
A report that was released earlier on Tuesday outlined just how widespread a problem lead in water is. It found that 1,110 water systems serving more than 3.9 million people had lead levels above the EPA’s action level between 2013 and 2015. Flint wasn’t even counted in those figures.